Eat Local Challenge Eve

It's Eat Local Challenge Eve and I'd be lieing if I didn't say my courage was waning. Last night was spent looking for an internal compromise to going the whole way. The banana devil sat on my shoulder whispering, "Just stick to local carrots. You can't live without mayonnaise for a month. What difference are you going to make anyway?"

And the devil is likely right, my eating completely local for 30 days will not reverse global warming, reduce the amount of run off pesticides or fertilizers that pollute our waterways. It will not lessen the number of shopping carts with plastic boxes of produce packaged for easy shipping and retail display. It will not raise the national number of farmers that produce food instead of subsidy commodities and I'll probably still never meet Michael Pollan or Barbara Kingsolver.

The only effect of my eating local will likely be to my pocket book, waist line and a reason for the cute guy to do a lot more sailing. And I can't not do it.

So this morning as a last hurrah of sorts I had a croissant from the Acme Bread Company at the Ferry Building and bid a silent farewell to my friends at Starbucks's. Tomorrow will be a new day.

Here are my guidelines for the Eat Local Challenge per the questions on the Locavores website:

Goal: I'm not sure. To save the world? Yeah, right. To be part of the solution as Anne Lamott would say, but a solution for specifically what I'm not sure. A better world? The one we have is pretty darn beautiful this morning and the fruits she produces are damn delicious already. Okay, here it is -- My goal is to reduce my carbon bite by eating food grown within a 100 mile radius of my home and to enjoy the perfection of it all. And to blog every day of the challenge.

Exemptions: Coffee. Period. I will however brew my own coffee instead of going to Starbucks and I'll use beans that are some combination, if not all, of fairtrade, organic and roasted locally.

And I get one wild card exemption one time each week if I need it so I don't throw myself into a pit of dirty varmin if I have a starving, near death moment in the urban desert of life and make an unlocal choice.

Challenge: To not be too serious.

Tip Offered: Breathe.

Help Needed Finding: Local mayonnaise, yeast, sugar, caffeinated tea.

Writing this I realized I should have solicited sponsors for each day I succeeded and donated the money to farm tours for kids, a women's shelter or cleaning up the dead zones off the coasts of Oregon or Louisiana. That's an idea for next year though. This year, I'll be my own sponsor - $5 for each day I succeed, donated somewhere yet to be determined.

Eat well.

Eat Local Challenge

There are four days left until the month long Eat Local Challenge begins. And every day my morning coffee taunts me with the looming question - will I quit for the challenge?

What I love about the Eat Local Challenge though, which is being hosted for its third year in association with the Locavores is that there are lots of way to participate, coffee or not.

From eating only local instead of imported tomatoes for September, cooking one local meal a week or choosing fruit grown within the state for 30 days.

Or you can hop on the boat, set your course and go for the longer haul, (everything at our house has a sailing analogy) choosing to eat only food produced within 100 miles of your home for the entire month. I'm choosing the latter. With at least one exemption. Likely coffee.

Check out the ELC website for the full parade of participation. They make it sound so fun and not that challenging at all.

Here's a list of all the food I can think of at 11:30 on a Monday night that I'll eat because it's in season and produced locally:

Olive Oil
Cheese, cheese, cheese and more cheese but I don't eat that much cheese.
Green Beans
My Full Belly Farm wheat flour
Rancho Gordo Beans
Apple Cider Vinegar
Brussell Spouts - I love them!
Sprouted beans from the Sprout Man
West Marin greens
Honey. Sweet, sweet honey.

The Fragile Edge

Last night I took the cute guy to a lecture by Julia Whitty at the California Academy of Sciences. She wrote a book called The Fragile Edge: Wonders and Warnings of the Oceans. He mostly liked the parts about world currents and perfect storms. I liked the parts about fishing and farmed fish.

Let me first tell you that she showed us flourescent slides of coral reefs and striped fish with third eyes that made my heart bloom for being on the planet. There were photos of God like clear blue waters, deep albino creatures with fins and antennae that have only recently been discovered. There was even a rainbow.

And then we saw photos of the dead zone off the Louisiana and Texas coasts that is a result of industrial agriculture run off from the Mississippi River. We saw masses of floating dead fish suffocated because of a lack of oxygen.

We saw photos I hope to forget of shrimp farms with grey waters and muddier shores. I could almost smell the stink. "They make for cheap shrimp at Trader Joe's," she narrated. I've eaten those shrimp, I thought.

But the most interesting fact of the evening for me and the one that I will carry in my pocket forever is this; in order to produce one pound of farmed fish it takes three pounds of wild fish. "Are the wild fish a variety we wouldn't otherwise eat?," I asked.

"Yes," she said. "In particular to farmed salmon they are fed krill, which turns the salmon meat pink and otherwise happens naturally when they are wild but not when they are farmed."

I remembered earlier in the lecture and a gentlemen had her repeat this during questions at the end, that the krill populations have decreased 80% worldwide since 1950. The decrease is primarily due to the melting of the Artic which is happening at a record rate as we already know. The Artic is the sweet spot for the krill. They reproduce underneath the ice. What's left of them we are feeding to farmed salmon.

Someone asked, "What can we do?" I heard some desperation.

"Pick your passion," she said. "And follow it."

Walking back to the car, the cute guy and I recommitted to eating only sustainably caught fish, when we eat fish at all.

"It makes me want to sail more," he said.

"Everything makes you want to sail more," I replied, poking him. But I knew what he meant. There is so much world to see, so many ways to be responsible and kind to the earth, it's hard to sit still and do nothing.

Update: Per a special request (Thanks, AP!) I'm adding a couple of quick reference links for buying and ordering sustainable fish. The first is a smart blog by National Geographics The Green Guide with a list of yes, no and sometimes fish as they relate to our health, the state of the species and environmental impact.

The second website has an easy guide by county of retailers that sell local, sustainably harvested fish called Fish Wise.

Happy eating!

Melons, Mint and Honey

Since the last post I have purchased six pounds of local flour in plastic bags with a fat Full Belly Farm Buddha label on each one. I bought local salt from a woman who swam to an island off the coast of Mendocino and harvested it herself. "I'm Trish," she said reaching out her hand. She was half mermaid, half lumberjack and I fell in love with her immediately.

I have cooked and froze some pounds of cling peaches. "The O'Henry's are not fiberous enough," the farmer schooled me. I purchased orange cauliflower in Pt. Reyes and have not had time to make zucchini pancakes with the six different varieties we received in last weeks farm bag from Canvas Ranch.

I have been camping for two days with my god-daughter and her mom at Samuel P. Taylor Park eating Full Belly Farm melon, mint and honey for dinner at the campfire. I have sailed sideways in the bay for the first time with the cute guy eating poppy seed muffins and double lattes before we left the dock. Life is so good.

The biggest news though is I've lost my favorite eating buddy. The cute guy has been put on a diet by his acupuncturist, the woman from Hades, we are fondly calling her. He can eat nothing but proteins, rice and vegetables.

"Except Sundays," he improvised as we reunited and he finished off his latte.

The salt and flour are off limits, as are beans; good-by Rancho Gordo! I am going to have to eat all the melons and grapes on the market myself; all the eggs and locally made butter. Tomato sandwiches are out, cheese is out, potatoes, corn; no posole. He can't even eat an apple. All those beautiful heirloom and bright pink apples. What am I going to do?

I hope this is good for him because he's missing a bunch of the summer harvest fun.

Strawberry Heaven

On Sunday I took the cute guys oldest granddaughter, she's nine, to her first farmer's market with the promise we could paint plates afterward.

On the way we listed her favorite fruits and then played - If you were a color, what would it be? Pink. If you were an animal? A cat. Holiday? Christmas. Food? Ice cream.

At the market we tasted grapes from eight different vendors; green grapes, Concord, champagne. Purple grapes the size of peas. We tasted freestone and white nectarines, peaches, plums. We tasted strawberries.

"How is it," I asked each time.

"Good. When are we going to go paint plates?"

I started looking for more exciting fruits but only found another nectarine. She nodded her head before I asked how it was and headed for the next fruit stall. I bought a melon from a grower with a sweet crop I'd had the week before, making a game of smelling them before choosing. That lasted a minute and a half.

At the last row of vendors I pinched a cartoon perfect strawberry and handed it to her. She took it, bit into it. I was scanning the remaining vendors for my favorite peppers and exotic fruit. When I looked back she was smiling, licking her fingers.

"That's the best strawberry I've ever had!" Her voice was animated.

"It's organic," I said. I couldn't help it. We were both smiling. She reached for another one. I wish I'd reached for the camera.

We walked away with baskets of strawberries, eating them from the bag, setting them between us in the car on the way to the plate painting store. We almost brought them into the store while she painted a cup for her Dad.

We ate strawberries on the way home and again when we cut off the tops at the sink filling a periwinkle blue bowl with them, our fingers and lips stained red.

And I would have to agree; they were the best strawberries I've ever had too.

Our Carbon Bite

I've discovered a problem with eating local. It's not the food; getting food produced within our region is music in the park, tastes great, looks beautiful, is plentiful, fragrant, diverse. We are in the garden of eden and this is the summer of love.

There is no question that the cute guy and I have reduced our carbon bite. We are no longer swallowing the energy it takes to package, store and transport the 1,500 to 3,000 miles food typically travels to our plate. Our garbage can is less full at the end of the week, our food is fresher. It smiles at us.

But here's the problem. After all the delicious reduced carbon lip licking I'm noticing the size of my carbon footprint, my handprint, what it looks like when I sit down, lay down, turn around. My life is so steeped in carbon I'm surprised I can breathe. I go to the dry cleaner. My face cream comes from Germany, soap from France. I bought a new white blouse from China, orange shoes from Israel. My car is Swedish, toilet paper double ply. I get highlights and buy my favorite t-shirts from Target at a price I know doesn't support a living wage. I don't care where you live.

The cute guy's answer is to give everything away and move onto the boat.

"But where would the couch go?" I ask him.

I love that each time I eat I have the ability to take action for a sustainable future. But it's not the entire solution. As much as I'd like to close my eyes, justify and excuse my consumer habits I can't and I hate that. With a bit of cultivation though I may be able to find some other kinds of fancy gardens; as long as they don't include sleeping in a life jacket every night!

A Little Local Fodder

- The cute guy said we have to eat as many different kinds of potatoes as we (read, I) can find. So far we've had blue, Russian fingerlings, yukon gold, little red ones that I just call new potatoes and ruby somethings that I can't remember the exact name of. They look gnarly.

- Sunday morning at the farmer's market I bought butter made the day before from Springhill Farm in Petaluma. This may be the reason for the sudden surge to eat more potatoes. And a damn good one, I think.

- Best line I've heard at a farmer's market: "These grapes are better than young love!" I should have asked questions but with the taste still sweet I bought a bag as quick as possible so I could keep eating them. If you find these grapes do not pass them up.

- I've branched off to living food and started a brew of kombucha tea on the kitchen counter. It takes a week and already looks disgusting.

- My Rancho Gordo beans arrived with postcard recipes and I may leave them on the kitchen table forever. They are stunning.

- Give your old towels to a local veterinarian. They will thank you.


I've finished reading Plenty, its full title a haiku --

Plenty, one man one
woman and a raucous year
of eating local

I refer to the authors, Alisa Smith and J.B. MacKinnon as the kids. "The kids stored their potatoes in a dresser drawer," I told the cute guy.

"Let's buy a dresser," he answered.

The book has been the reason I've been obsessed with finding local flour. I was only mildly curious before; I thought I could live without it. But the kids needed some flour to save their relationship and if they needed some, damn it, I needed some too.

Once I started the book, I raced through it. The chapters alternated between Alisa and J.B. and while I enjoyed each of their voices there were times J.B. became too bogged down in history for my taste. He was most alive in the field of his experience with current events. I could read him all day long then.

Alisa had a quieter voice with a gift to reflect with words a rhythm that had she attempted to consciously portray would have dissipated immediately. From her I sensed the inner journey of the year, felt the seasons in the pit of my own stomach.

I would have enjoyed their story, a young couple with a goal, roadblocks, adventures; the hero's journey times two, even if I wasn't eating local. As it was, I was entertained and educated.

And, I found local flour. It's grown in the Capay Valley by Full Belly Farm. The cute guy was all high fives when I told him. It wasn't until later, I was standing in the kitchen, alone, cleaning a flat of strawberries to freeze, that I realized I'm not a baker. Aside from Camille Kingsolver's Friday night pizza dough I don't do flour. But then Alisa wasn't really a cook when she began the 100 mile diet either and she didn't starve. I suspect I won't either.

Rancho Gordo

I was searching online today for locally grown and milled flour, which I was a bit obsessed about, but instead found a new blog, by the man that started and runs Rancho Gordo. This is the vendor that used to be at the Sunday Marin Farmer's Market selling heirloom dry beans that look more like art than food. I want to fill clear glass vases with them.

Rancho Gordo is only at the Saturday morning Ferry Building market these days but sells to a number of retailers and online. I just stocked up online with flageolot, vaquero, ojo de Cabra (goat's eye) and yellow Indian woman beans. Aside from being poetic, gorgeously delicious and nearly extinct, the beans are local per my definition of grown within 100 miles from home.

But the blog! That's what I want to talk about. It's all beans and salsas; chilies, dried, roasted and chopped. It's recipes and pozole. There are pictures, mouth-watering pictures, of tortillas and tacos ready to eat. It's a salsa freak's dream and I only skimmed the titles of the posts for July.

This is so good I've (almost) forgotten about the flour.